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november/december 2008

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A New Call To Service

WOW! I doubt that any of us who grew up on the cutting edge of the Civil Rights movement believed we would ever see a President-elect of African-American descent in our lifetime. The fact that Sen. Barack Obama was victorious over a genuine hero of the Vietnam War makes it a bit bittersweet for many of us. We should take heart, however, about the new generation of voters who have come together to make this watershed event happen.

Many of us remember the euphoria generated in our youth by the call to service by President Kennedy, only to have it end with an assassin’s bullet and the entry into the quagmire of the Vietnam War. I hope that President-elect Obama’s call to service will have more success.

While others will remark on the similarity between President-elect Obama and President Kennedy, I want to focus more on President-elect Obama’s need to imitate President Franklin D. Roosevelt. There have been many comparisons to today’s economic situation and the Great Depression. We must remember that the latter ended only because of America’s entry into World War II.

The reason the Depression didn’t recur after the war was the G.I. Bill. This sweeping piece of social legislation created the middle class that we so admire today. It also created the suburbs, where most people live in the United States. Remember that this legislation gave every veteran the opportunity to get an education, buy a home, and start a business without regard to race, religion, class, or national origin.

This program showed that government operations could be effective. Unfortunately, segregation in the military and in society limited the ability of minorities to take advantage of this opportunity. Furthermore, when the more-integrated military of the Vietnam era came along, the G.I. Bill was significantly watered down.

We will soon have a new G.I. Bill, which will be more closely aligned with the original one. However, the number of veterans who will be able to avail themselves of this program is relatively small. Therefore, perhaps we need a G.I. Bill of sorts attached to President-elect Obama’s call for service, whether it is the Peace Corps, the Teacher Corps, Americorps, or perhaps some veterans service program (Veteranscorp?).

While I believe that those who put their lives on the line deserve special treatment, I would not be averse to some new “American Service” bill that would reward young people who are willing to help others. We could increase services to those who need them most, while providing opportunity for advancement for those willing to serve.

The G.I. Bill paid for itself many times over. The new G.I. Bill will do the same, as would an “American Service” plan. The key to these bills is that they require service before getting assistance, rather than just being a handout.

Let us hope that this new administration leads us into a new golden age similar to the post-World War II era.

Veterans Day will be over when you read this message. I am sure that many of you went to Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. On page 30, you’ll find Mark Jury’s photographs of the parade of colors that honored the women who served during the Vietnam War.

At the last Board meeting, we approved a new relationship with Medals of America, a veteran-owned business. MOA will take over our Veterans Collectibles operations. We look forward to a long, successful partnership with them.

On behalf of the Officers, Directors, and our families, I want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and a joyous Christmas or Chanukah. Our Muslim friends have already completed Ramadan, while some other folks look forward to Kwanza. Whatever your celebration, we wish everyone a healthy and happy holiday season and a joyous New Year.



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